Pomeranz on the colonial contribution

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2003 - 13:52:42 EDT

In "England's Divergence from China's Yangzi Delta" in The Journal of
Asian Studies 61, no. 2 (May 2002) Brenner and Isett seem to show
that proto-industrialization in England was driven forward by the
rising incomes resulting from rising agrarian labor productivity
while proto industrialization in the Yangzi valley drew its impetus
from attempts to supplement peasant income in the face of declining
productivity. Leaving aside this very important contrast, I am struck
by Pomeranz's recognizing the  advantage England had in labor
productivity while underlining the stagnation in land productivity or
total agricultural output.

I am not finding the response to this point. It would seem that
whatever stimulus rising agrarian labor productivity gave to proto
industry in England, it may not have been sufficient in itself for
the transition from proto-industry to large scale capitalist
manufacture, much less resource-hungry and capital-intensive
machino-facture. In different ways, both Habib and Pomeranz argue
that without colonial coercion, which itself became an economic
force, the transition to capitalism could have only proceeded at a
snail's pace, if at all.

 From Kenneth Pomeranz in the same of issue of JAS, pp.578-79:

The English contrast to Jiangjan's deteriorating trade environment
could not be sharper. There was an enormous boom in New Wolrd
exports--historically conditioned, as I argued, by the area's
remarkable ecological bounty and by an unusual set of institutional
arrangements, including both slavery and the massive British
investment in nval power and shipping. Institutional reforms on
significant parts of the European continent during and after the
Napoleonic Wars also looseend supply--sie constraints on imports from
there, though these changes took a long time to reach some of the
most land-rich parts of the continent (e.g., Russia). Soaring
quantities of land-intensive imports allowed England to experience a
huge population boom, raise per capita consumption, and specialize
more in mfg than before without facing sharply rising prices for
primary products. British agriculture was relieved through this trade
of the need to meet the country's soaring demand for fiber: gradually
(and after 1846 not so gradually) it was also relieved of the need to
meet much of its demand for food. Without these 'ghost acres', as
Eric Jones calls them, and the trade boom more generally , the
British form of agricultural capitalism, which maximized profit (and
increased output per workday) by shedding labor but did not maximize
total agricultural output, simply could not have provided all that
was needed. Others have seen this before me (e.g., Brinley Thomas)
but the point seemed worth re-emphasizing, as it is often glossed
over in accounts that treat England (or Europe) in isolation from the
wider world."

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